Can you raise a chicken alone?

I've received several emails from readers lately asking if it's okay to raise a chicken by itself? Some of these chickens are being raised in the house as pets, but others are being raised outside in a coop by themselves. I have had a chicken inside my house form time to time and I have to say, it depends on the situation.

a chicken walking alone in the grass

By nature chickens are flock animals. They do best in a group. When somebody asks me what the ideal flock size is I always say to have a minimum of five chickens in a flock. This is with or without a rooster.

Also when choosing flock size you'll want to look at how many eggs you need, but that doesn't really matter because they'll lay more in the summer and less in the winter and you'll never really get exactly what you need! Lol

Can chickens live alone?

Have you ever had a single chick hatch way before the rest of the clutch? That kid will cheep, cheep, cheep constantly! He's just looking for friends (or his mama) but even at a day old they crave companionship of the feathered type.

When kept outside in a chicken coop, one chicken alone will be terribly lonely! Since chickens are such social animals you will need to provide that social interaction for them. Unless you can spend 80% of your day outside with your chicken, you're going to do best to have that chicken in the house. But again if you can't spend a lot of time interacting with that chicken it's going to get lonely.

A flock of chickens create their own dynamic. I'm sure you've heard of the pecking order, and it naturally develops in every flock of chickens. 

Chickens have individual personalities. These personalities determine how they fit in with the other chickens in the flock. They seem to have conversations with each other, making different sounds like clucks and muttering.

If you free-range your chickens you'll notice that when they go off foraging for bugs they usually do it in a group. Very rarely will you find one hen way far away from the rest of the flock. Unless she's in the coop laying her egg!

You'll often see them dust bathing together and some of them even seem to lay their eggs at the same time. There's a joke among chicken keepers that being broody is contagious... and I have that problem all the time in my coop! It seems like when one hen goes broody there's at least two more right behind her.

chickens dust bathing together

So yes, hens come to rely on each other for companionship. They rely on the rooster for protection, but also for companionship. They have none of these things when they're kept alone. 

Do chickens get lonely?

A solo chicken absolutely can get lonely! A lonely chicken may stop eating or start picking it's own feathers from boredom. It may become noisy or destructive just for something to do. It may also start seeking out people or other animals for companionship.

As mentioned earlier, even freshly hatched chicks call out for friends. If you do happen to hatch a solo chick, you'll find it becomes more attached to it's humans than other chicks. I'm not sure they really understand though, so it's best to find another chick to keep it company. I've given away many chicks to people that hatched just one!

So how many chickens do I really need?

At the absolute bare minimum you should keep at least two chickens. The problem with two chickens though, is that if something bad were to happen to one of them then you're left with one. It does not take very long for loneliness to set in when they're only friend is suddenly gone!

It can be quite difficult to find a solo chicken to put with your suddenly single hen. Plus there's also the matter of a 30 day quarantine when getting new chickens. For this reason I would never have less than three, though I really do believe five is a better number!

I've written about sick chickens and making a hospital cage to take care of one. In this instance you may have to have one chicken by itself for a short while. If a chicken is sick you want to keep it alone so whatever disease it has it's not spread to other chickens. So we often keep ill chickens in quarantine, by themselves. Injured chickens I tend to cage separately but in the coop, so she can still see and hear her friends.

If you are given a chicken by itself, for this reason you'll want to keep it in the house and make sure to spend time with it several times during the day. Some people carry them around with them, letting them sit on a towel across their lap. Others move the cage from room to room with them.

A big part of healing though, is staying in a good frame of mind and for a flock animal suddenly being plunged into a solitary lifestyle can be stressing! So it's really important to make sure a solo chicken has a lot of interaction from the people in its life.

Silkie house chickens wearing diaper

What about house chickens?

There are lots of house chickens and house ducks on social media. People have these in their homes and they raise them as house pets. Some people put them in diapers and give them free range of the house. 

That's actually a better idea for the animals mental health and happiness than keeping them caged inside the house. An animal that has free run will seek out humans and the other types of animals within the house for companionship. While they can seem perfectly happy, I still would feel better having 2 house chickens than one!

I always have a bunch of chickens in several coops, but there have been many times over the years that I've moved chickens around to keep one from being alone. They're just happier when they have friends!

Related reading: How we take vacations even though we have 80 chickens!


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